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Heat, drought taking a toll on fairs

MILWAUKEE -- State and county fairs in the sweltering and drought-stricken regions may see some skinnier pigs and smaller squash this year.

The dozen pigs Greg Marzahl and his 15-year-old daughter are taking to the Wisconsin State Fair are smaller than those he'd normally show. Marzahl, who had three grand champion pigs last year, said his pigs are about 15 pounds smaller than the normal 275 pounds. The heat is affecting their virility and appetites, he said.

"We've had a hard time getting them to eat enough to get that condition on them," said Marzahl, who has about 35 show pigs and a few lambs on his 160-acre farm in Oxford.

The Wisconsin fair opens its 11-day run Thursday in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis. State fairs also are set to begin in the next two weeks in Indiana, Iowa and Illinois, which also have been hit hard this summer by unusual heat and drought.

Marzahl still plans to take his pigs to the fair, expecting his competition will have smaller animals, too.

That's been the case at some county fairs that already have been held in the state.

David Laatsch, an agriculture agent with the University of Wisconsin Extension, said he's judged several poultry contests for county fairs this summer and has seen fewer exhibitors and smaller animals. The heat also causes narrower and fewer feathers on poultry, he said.

Laatsch thought some potential exhibitors might have decided to leave their dairy cows home because they were already stressed. Heat disrupts cows' reproductive cycles, and their milk production goes down, he said.

Liana Glavin, secretary of the Adams County Fair Board, has three teenage daughters involved in 4-H. They will take some of their 12 cows to the county fair this year but leave a mother and her calf behind because of the stress from the heat.

Other exhibitors aren't even coming, she said, although she didn't immediately have figures.

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